The way the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha are being repeatedly adjourned since March 5, it appears that Parliament will continue to function in a similar manner until the elections next year. Things have come to such a pass that it seems the Rajya Sabha chairperson and the Lok Sabha Speaker begin proceedings only to announce that the House has been adjourned.
Who is to blame for this? Is it just because of the din created by the Opposition? Or is there more to it? The answer lies in the rationale behind the decision to adjourn both Houses.
Rajya Sabha chairman M Venakaiah Naidu presided over the Upper House for the first time on 11 August, 2017. That was the last day of the 243rd session of the Rajya Sabha. The session continued for 19 days. Subsequently, the 244th session of Rajya Sabha continued for 13 days from 15 December, 2017 to 5 January, 2018 under his leadership.
The 245th session of the Upper House is the Budget Session, which normally happens to be a long session. This session began on 29 January and continued till 9 February. And then, it was adjourned till 5 March.
Resuming on 5 March, the proceedings of the Parliament have been regularly adjourned. The Rajya Sabha Chairman's decision to adjourn is the House is being seen as strange. It can be understood in the light of the following facts.
Since 5 March, just after resuming at 11 AM. the proceedings of Rajya Sabha were adjourned till 2 PM. by the Chairman. In between, only two days – on 6 March and 15 March - the proceedings of the Upper House continued after 2 PM. Otherwise the pattern of adjournment was such that first the House would be adjourned till 2 PM and then subsequently for the next day.
Interestingly when the Upper House resumed after 2 PM on 6 March, the Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien came in place of the Chairman to preside over the House. He, cited disruptions and adjourned the House till 3.30 PM.
On 15 March, too, the Deputy Chairman adjourned the House till 3 PM. But on both days, after 2 PM, he tried hard to ensure that the House resumes after the adjournment of one hour. He was, on both occasions, in favour of taking one more chance to restart the proceedings.
The clearly appears to be a difference in approach between the Chairman and Deputy Chairman regarding the functioning of the House.
A similar difference can be seen in the Lok Sabha as well.
Even by Naidu's own standards, his approach in this session has been different from what he followed in the previous session of Parliament.
During 244th session of the Rajya Sabha which lasted 13 days, Chairman Naidu had adjourned the proceedings of the Upper House after 11 PM. Till 2 PM for just two days.
During that session, the Upper House was adjourned for the first time on 21 December, 2017. That day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to be present during the Question Hour in the Upper House. At that time, the Opposition members of the House were demanding a clarification on his allegation that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had conspired with Pakistan during the Gujarat Assembly elections.
22 December was Friday and the House worked till 2.30 PM. Therefore, it was emphasised that there should be consensus to conduct the proceedings. .
The history of Rajya Sabha normally testifies that once the need for adjournment arises after the commencement of the proceedings at 11 AM, the Upper House is adjourned till 12 noon in the first phase.
As 12 noon is the time for Question Hour, several members expecting answers from the government for their questions, readily agreed to run the House. In the Lok Sabha, the Question Hour is scheduled at 11 A,M. During his tenure, former Vice President Hamid Ansari had decided to start the Question Hour in the Upper House at 12 noon. During the 14th session of 16th Lok Sabha, the proceedings of the Lower House began at 11 AM. for the Question Hour and thereafter since 12 noon, it was adjourned for the day.
In parliamentary proceedings, Question Hour is extremely important. On 7 February Rajya Sabha MP Naresh Agrawal suggested that Question Hour be suspended in order to ensure participation of maximum members in the debate on the President’s address. But Chairman Naidu spoke at length on the importance of Question Hour. He said that Question Hour was the right of every member and depriving members of this right would be very painful.
But after 5 March, the House has been convened every day only to be adjourned. This was evident on 16 March. That day, after commencement of the proceedings there was no disruption and pandemonium in the House. Still, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu announced his decision to adjourn the House for the day.
While pronouncing his decision, he commented that the Opposition is demanding a discussion only on the Punjab National Bank scam. He asked why, instead of the scam in Punjab National Bank, there should not be a discussion on all scams that had taken place so far in the banking sector?
The mammoth Rs 11,000 crore scam had rocked Parliament, ever since it resumed on 5 March.
It is being felt as if both Houses of the Parliament have resumed only to hear out the decisions of adjournment from the respective presiding officers. This is particularly the case in the Rajya Sabha where no effort appears to have been made to keep the House running. Going by the series of adjournments, it appears that this trend will continue in both Houses, until the general elections. The delay in the Winter Session due to the Gujarat Assembly elections is also an indicator of what lies ahead. The elections got over on 14 December and a brief Winter Session took place from 15 December to 5 January.
It seems that the current ruling dispensation is apprehensive of parliamentary proceedings as it believes that they may influence the public discourse and have an impact on the minds of voters. This is the reason why we are witnessing ridiculous situations in the conduct of parliamentary proceeding these days.
Anil Chamadia is freelance has been covering parliament proceedings since 1991.